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Review of Down by the River by Turner Mark-Jacobs

I have a soft spot for low-key debuts by cartoonists: many small-press artists want to come right out and make the next Dark Knight Returns, and they get crushed under their own ambition. Self-publishing is the perfect venue for that project that interests you as an artist, and this retelling of a western folktale (that I’d never heard of) will obviously attract a bit of a niche audience.

I think I offended the artist when I met him at the Albuquerque Zine Fest and described this book as being “like one of those weird obscure one-shots Marvel put out during the eighties that went immediately into discount back-issue boxes”. The truth is that when you read those issues, the names on the cover include Mignolas, Allreds and Willinghams, and everybody needs to “cut their teeth” before word gets around and people start reading their stuff. I have no idea what Jacobs’ fate is going to be as an artist, but his obscure storytelling choices don’t necessarily put him in bad company.

I had to read the book twice to follow the story, because the sparse word balloons and uncluttered line word encourage the reader to breeze through the book in a way that the story doesn’t support. A traveling farmer in the old West rescues a drowning stranger, and is then given a foreboding warning that it’s “bad luck” to do so. Later, in the same river, he finds a dead Sheriff. He receives strange and unsettling “help” from an unnamed stranger, and decides to move away from the cursed Tules river. He discovers that the stranger (“Captain Jack”) had killed the Sheriff and faked his own death: later, his farm floods, and Captain Jack comes to rescue the farmer and return the original favor. The story is a very barebones Western tale that really only exists to showcase Jacobs’ ability to create a mood.

His drawings suggest a mix of Mike Mignola and Guy Davis (of The Marquis and B.P.R.D.), a slightly sketchy style that appears to have been drawn with a thick ink pen. It is an appealing and readable art style that I really like, but the real star of the show here is the coloring. Jacobs hand-watercolored every panel in this book, and every single one could hold its own as an evocative Western piece of pop art. The book alternates between washed-out brownish landscapes and blood-red dream sequences. Backgrounds are simply rendered and the facial expressions are all fairly cartoony: everything points back to the watercolors. This is an “artist’s book” if I’ve ever seen one.

This really does remind me of an old Marvel one-shot, where artists were given free reign to do interesting things in a way that doesn’t happen anymore. It’s fun to pick it up and just stare at a picture at random, letting a few lines and some painterly brushstrokes really wash over you and draw you in. I hope Jacobs draws another one.

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Posted by on November 2, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

The Vagus Street Project

At this year’s Zine Fest, I met a husband and wife artistic team who showed genuine interest in my Melies comics. This gives me the kind of excitement that most people get when they see free puppies on the road, so I am probably biased when I review their book. Then again, zine culture is so specialized and intimate that ideas like “bias” probably don’t carry much weight anyway.

The Vagus Street Project has a wonderfully creepy concept: in the 1960s, “visionary” (read: insane) architects designed modernistic housing projects for the poor. Utopian planning was big in the sixties, but when the drugs wore off, many poor people were stuck living in nightmarish and unstable “works of art”. John and Jenn Myers have imagined such a project, and they’ve set their modern-day ghost stories within its walls. Like Phil Hester’s The Wretch (which I reviewed earlier this year), the “hook” is strong enough that I like the serviceable stories as well as the good ones. I’m happy that someone thought of this idea and drew it.

The undercurrent of race that runs through these stories is gutsy, and it lends a pit-of-your-stomach sense of reality to the otherwise somewhat cheesy ghost stories. Supposedly, the Vagus Street Project survived one of the worst race riots of the 1960s, and we can only assume that this event has something to do with its haunting. Most of the current residents seem to be black, and “Something Moved in the Schoolyard” features an old black man reminiscing about his childhood in the Project. But even more than race, class permeates the entire series. It would be more crowd-pleasing to see rich people receiving comeuppance from the ghosts of poor people, but that’s not what happens. All the project’s residents are poor (it was reopened for people affected by our current recession), so we get the decidedly NOT crowd-pleasing spectacle of poor people being victimized by the ghosts of poor people.

All the stories are five pages long. In a way this is really cool (like little glimpses into this uncomfortable word), but it’s also pretty limiting. We don’t get enough time to care about any of the characters, who never reappear. We never learn anything about the ghosts, so we’re left with short stories about anonymous poor people being haunted by incomprehensible ghosts. The art style changes every issue (Jen Myers has a wonderful range), and all the stories I’ve read are told in a different style. One story was silent. They are interesting, but they aren’t given a chance to be much more than interesting. The series does not have a discernible beginning, middle, or end, which is kind of a shame. On the other hand, it does kind of add to the “glimpses of another life” feeling.

Anyways, I’m glad that something came up with this idea and then drew it. For all the frustration zine culture causes me, this is the kind of neat thing that it occasionally produces. Comics were made for this: unusual but interesting ideas that would be butchered if they were picked up by Hollywood. This comic stayed in my head for a while after I read it, and it made me think about class in a much more critical way than some half-assed anarchist zine ever could have.

Check it out at http://vagus.typodmary.com/

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

New daily comic!

My new daily comic is up at http://robertbrudos.webs.com/the-sea-is-stormy-tonight. I think I’m gonna keep this page as a blog and move my comics over to the new website, it’s just more visually suited to how they look. Check out the new page (my girlfriend made it)!

robertbrudos.webs.com

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Page 6

Okay, that’s it for the blog preview. Check out the rest of the comic at http://robertbrudos.webs.com/the-sea-is-stormy-tonight

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2012 in Uncategorized